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The Best Tennessee Whiskeys Of 2020, Ranked

Picking the best Tennessee whiskey of 2020 is at least slightly less difficult than doing the same with bourbon releases. While Tennessee whiskey is the best selling whiskey in the world (thanks to Jack Daniel’s monster sales numbers), the number of unique expressions put out annually is actually very small. That’s especially true if you’re comparing the Tennessee iterations to the absolute abundance of bottles coming out of Kentucky.

The reason for the disparity? After a century of battering, Tennessee whiskey is only now starting to make a comeback (Jack Daniel’s excluded). But with fewer bottles on the shelves, quality expressions are able to grab our attention and hard-earned cash a little easier. Especially if our respective whiskey journeys have left us curious about the famed “Lincoln County Process” — wherein hot whiskey is filtered through sugar maple charcoal, adding a layer of refinement and depth that’s often missing from Kentucky’s bourbons.

Our picks for 2020’s best Tennessee whiskey releases are pretty straightforward. We’re calling out bottles we tasted this year that we really dug. Some of them are new releases. Others are old standards (issued yearly) that seem to be getting better with each trip around the sun. All of them are tasty, accessible, and great examples of the beauty that is Tennessee whiskey.

8. Fugitives Grandgousier

Fugitive Spirits

ABV: 48%
Average Price: $63

The Whiskey:

This is a very interesting (and tasty) craft whiskey with Tennessee heritage at its core. The mash is a blend of heirloom Hickory Cane corn mixed with Irish malted barley. It’s copper pot distilled, charcoal filtered, and aged in custom toasted and then charred oak barrels until it’s just right.

Tasting Notes:

This sip greets you with the nose of a flaky biscuit smothered in honey and butter with a dose of caramel apples and kettle corn on the side. It feels and tastes young but still has soft edges with tart apple counterpoint, caramel malts, notes of vanilla, and continuation of that buttery, honeyed biscuit. The warmth is subtle as the oak makes its “toasty-flavored” appearance on the medium-length finish.

Bottom Line:

This is an interesting sip that bridges the world of Kentucky bourbon with Tennessee whiskey in a single glass. It’s also a nice mixer for cocktails and highballs.

7. Davidson Reserve Tennessee Small Batch Whiskey

Davidson Reserve

ABV: 50%
Average Price: $40

The Whiskey:

This small batched whiskey is all about keeping it local. The relatively high-rye mash bill (25 percent) also utilizes locally grown corn. The juice is then filtered through the necessary sugar maple charcoal before mellowing for at least four years in new American oak.

Tasting Notes:

There’s a mix of creamy vanilla pudding, burnt sugar, and maple syrup on the front end, with a hint of red berries chasing that. The fruit edges towards a spicy, stewed peach with hints of cracker malts next to rich caramel sweetness. The end takes its time as it fades through more fruit, spice, and creamy vanilla, with a final whisper of fresh mint on the very end.

Bottom Line:

There’s a reason this whiskey keeps racking up gold medals. It’s a very easy sipper with a little water or ice to help it bloom. It also makes a mean cocktail base.

6. Uncle Nearest 1856 Premium Whiskey

Uncle Nearest

ABV: 50%
Average Price: $60

The Whiskey:

This whiskey is the entry point to the newly minted Uncle Nearest line. The shingle was created to celebrate Nathan “Nearest” Green who was instrumental in Jack Daniel’s early success in postbellum Tennessee. The juice in the bottle is a sourced (for now) blend of Tennessee whiskeys that have aged eight to 14 years before blending and bottling.

Tasting Notes:

Fairground caramel corn mingles with rushes of dry hay, thin maple syrup, and bowls of freshly picked peaches. The fruit takes on dry edges as the maple and caramel take on a spiciness next to a maltiness that almost feels like a spiced cake full of dried fruit. There’s a hint of dried florals behind vanilla and caramel on the short end.

Bottom Line:

This is a solid workhorse whiskey. It works as a sipper, mixer, or highball base in equal measure, though we’d argue it’s at its best in a Manhattan.

5. Nelson’s Green Brier Tennessee Whiskey

Nelsons Green Brier

ABV: 45.5%
Average Price: $30

The Whiskey:

Nelson’s Green Brier is a heritage brand that has a great comeback story. The family’s shingle was killed by Prohibition until descendants of the former owners stumbled upon the old distillery. Now, they’re making one of the finest, wheated Tennessee whiskeys at one of the most accessible price points of any whiskey.

Tasting Notes:

Cinnamon stewed apples mix with oily vanilla and a sweet edge of caramel. The spice carries through the taste with buttery cinnamon toast feel next to more tart apples, plenty of caramel, wet brown sugar, and a small dusting of dark cacao and cherries. The end takes its time as it dances back through the cinnamon, cherry, chocolate, spice, and brown sugar towards a final note of wood.

Bottom Line:

This expression seems to get better every year. This year’s release took some of the “youngness” away and added a nice depth that works wonders in a cocktail or highball.

4. George Dickel Bottled-in-Bond

George Dickel

ABV: 50%
Average Price: $52

The Whiskey:

Head Distiller Nicole Austin has been killing it with these bottled-in-bond releases from George Dickel. This year’s release is a whiskey that was warehoused in the fall of 2008. Eleven years later, this whiskey was bottled at 100 proof (as per the law) and sent out to the wide world.

Tasting Notes:

This bottle exudes a flaky-crusted pecan pie jacked up on maple syrup, sprinkled with dried apple, and flush with rich vanilla. The taste delivers on those promises with a subtle maple syrup sweetness balanced with roasted nuts, more vanilla, and another dose of that earthy/spicy dried fruit. The end is slow and pointed with spicy apple pies, brown butter richness, and another shot of that vanilla leading towards a hint of charred oak.

Bottom Line:

There’s a reason folks call bottled-in-bond expressions “the good stuff.” This is another very solid workhorse whiskey that’ll work nicely as a sipper on the rocks, though the real beauty of this juice is in whiskey-centered cocktails.

3. Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel Barrel Proof

Jack Daniels

ABV: Varies
Average Price: $65

The Whiskey:

Jack Daniel’s is doing some great work with their yearly and very limited releases from their single barrel program. For us, this version is the mountaintop, since the juice in these bottles is uncut and unfiltered. This is exactly what’s in the best barrels coming out of Jack’s rickhouses.

Tasting Notes:

Since each bottling is going to vary slightly, we’re going with the bottle we tasted last. Expect plenty of toasted oak next to rich vanilla, buttery caramel, and a nice dose of sharp, wintry spices. The sip will bring about a mild fruitiness that balances between sweet apple and over-ripe banana as the vanilla, spice, and oak continue to drive the taste forward. The sip fades pretty slowly as the sweetness of the caramel becomes more maple syrupy, with plenty of that vanilla and oak lingering.

Bottom Line:

This was our favorite bottle of Jack Daniel’s this year. It’s amazingly smooth, full of dialed-in notes, easy to find, and very affordable for a single barrel.

2. Heaven’s Door 10 Year Limited Edition

Heavens Door

ABV: 50%
Average Price: $130

The Whiskey:

This yearly limited release from Bob Dylan’s Tennessee whiskey brand is another that seems to be getting better every year. The limited release is a small batched blend of Tennessee whiskeys that have been filtered through sugar maple charcoal made with well-aged wood. The juice then spends ten long years resting until it’s just right.

Tasting Notes:

This is fascinating on the nose — full of freshly baked bread dripping with creamy butter and accented by a nutty-chocolate side not that far from a pain au chocolat fresh from the oven. The taste holds onto those notes while adding in charred tropical fruits, candied nuttiness, and a dose of sweet maple. The end takes another turn into spicy tobacco leaves, worn leather, oak, and peaches swimming in syrup as it slowly fades away.

Bottom Line:

Yes, this is a little pricy. But, damn is this whiskey sippable. Add a little water or a rock to really let it bloom, throw on your favorite Dylan vinyl, and enjoy the ride.

1. Uncle Nearest 1820 Single Barrel

Uncle Nearest

ABV: 58.6%
Average Price: $105

The Whiskey:

This yearly single barrel expression from Uncle Nearest’s Victoria Eady Butler is one of the most promising whiskeys of 2020. Eady hand-selects high-proof barrels that are aged a minimum of eleven years old for this bottling. Each one is chosen to exemplify the beauty of Tennessee whiskey, drawn straight from the barrel.

Tasting Notes:

You can tell immediately why this whiskey has been winning nearly every award, right on the nose. There’s a matrix of dried fruits, Christmas spices, malty cakes, oily vanilla pods, subtle maple sweetness, and a hint of dark chocolate cut with subtle orange oils. The palate delivers with the fruits leaning more towards candied cherries aligning with worn leather, more dark cacao (especially with a little water to help it bloom), and plenty of oak. There’s a long, fulfilling linger to this sip that ushers in a final note of buttery popcorn and a very distant billow of smoke.

Bottom Line:

This is worth every penny and so good we had to give Uncle Nearest two slots on this “best of” list. Take your time with it and don’t forget a little water or a rock to let it bloom.

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